Working from home is becoming more common than ever, and a new report found the number of people telecommuting in the U.S. grew by 115 percent in the past decade. While telecommuting has tremendous benefits, it also can come with challenges and may not be for everyone. Experts say telecommuters need to be self-directed, have clear boundaries in their home office and reasonable expectations around balancing their work and personal life.
FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics said in their 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce report that more than 3.9 million U.S. employees, representing nearly 3 percent of the total workforce, work from home at least half of the time.
Technologies such as the cloud, teleconferencing and virtual meeting software make it easier than ever for many white-collar jobs to be performed from anywhere.
The Society for Human Resources Management said telecommuting is a relatively inexpensive perk that can improve work/life balance. An SHRM survey found roughly 60 percent of the organizations surveyed said they allowed telecommuting, up from 20 percent in 1996.
Telecommuting also offers great benefits for employers including reduced turnover, improved productivity and lower costs. Gallup reported in its State of the American Workplace report that employees who spend at least some of their time working remotely have higher engagement than employees that don't. The report found the optimal level of engagement was for employees that telecommute 60 to 80 percent of the time.
Brie Reynolds, senior career specialist at FlexJobs, says telecommuting offers employees the opportunity to avoid commutes, have more time with their families, reduce stress, and be more productive than they are in the office. It also offers people more job opportunities when they have the ability to work for anyone anywhere.
"The rise of the knowledge economy means that more people's jobs are compatible with remote work than ever before," Brie says.
Yet working from home isn't quite as simple as it sounds. Brie says telecommuters need to be self-directed, focused and have the ability to manage themselves well. A strong level of discipline and a distraction-free office is also required to be productive.
While the idea sounds good on the surface, many people find long-term telecommuting to be lonely. "Not everyone likes to telecommute or is a good fit for telecommuting. It's a largely independent way of working, which for some, can feel isolating," Brie says.
Val Matta, vice president of business development at CareerShift, says telecommuters can find it hard to disconnect from work and end up popping into their home office to check emails and do work during their personal time. "People chose to work from home in order to improve their work-life balance, but then find themselves constantly working," Matta says.